Two ministers provide care to the dying

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 9, 2003

The Rev. Marc Vincent, full-time chaplain on staff at Wiregrass Hospice, models his ministry on that of the Apostle Paul.

The apostle said that he was all things to all people for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Vincent said that the role of the hospice chaplain is to provide pastoral care for each family in the hospice program that requests it.

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He helps the survivors up to a year following the death. He is assisted in his work by several volunteer chaplains.

Hospice provides comprehensive support to the dying through a team of professionals ranging from nurses to social workers to chaplains. The goal of hospice is to enable the terminally ill to be at home, if possible, with their families and to spend their last days with as little pain and distress as possible. Hospice helps the dying come to terms with their impending death.

The pastoral

care needs for hospice participants and their families vary widely.

Every situation is going to be unique, according to Vincent. Upon request of the patient and family, Vincent makes contact with the individual and proceeds

to provide a caring presence that brings the love of God into the

lives of those he is serving.

In a typical week Vincent says he probably makes 40 visits, lasting from 15 minutes to several hours – whatever is needed, he said.

Vincent was ordained into the Charismatic Episcopal Church in 1999 and came to Selma in 2001 as a member of the pastoral staff of the Cathedral of Christ the King Charismatic Episcopal Church. He began full-time work at Wiregrass in January.

He continues to serve as a minister at the Cathedral of Christ the King and is canon to the bishop of the Diocese of Alabama.

Vincent said that the chaplaincy work is the most fulfilling of any 11

years of ministry.

That reality has taken him to a whole new spiritual depth. As he put it, &uot;I want to make sure that when I close the book all of the pages are turned up.&uot;

Much of his time is spent in prayer with dying people and family members, but he also has occasion to administer the sacraments of baptism and Communion which he finds especially meaningful.

Bringing the body and blood of our Lord into a home and the lives of its family members is extraordinarily significant and rewarding, Vincent said.

Especially rewarding is his participation in memorial services for persons whom he has served as chaplain. The challenge, he said, is to bring to a focus in the service the essence of the one who has died.

Asked about persons outside the traditional Christian fold, he said that in his 10 months of service he has had only one slightly awkward situation when it became clear that the family wanted a minister of their own church, and the request was immediately fulfilled. Untroubled, Vincent simply said of the incident, I am there to be a loving presence in the home of the family and to respect the faith of that home. He is simply there to meet the needs of a person who has requested a chaplain – and 97 percent of hospice participants do so request.

Vincent explained why people – even some who belong to a church and have a pastor – need a hospice chaplain. One, he said, the service is available. Two, especially in rural areas, pastors frequently serve multiple congregations and simply don’t have the time to provide the amount of care needed at the end of life. And, too, he said, ministers and members may have long-term relationships in situations where the minister has been in a church for a long time. The deep bonds of friendship may make it difficult for such a pastor to have the distance needed to provide the ministry that is desired. Three, sadly, he said there are a few ministers who simply don’t care.

How does one become a hospice chaplain? Vincent has had a fascinating pilgrimage on the way to Selma. He grew up in a Catholic home in Louisiana and began work in the telecommunications field in 1982 after his discharge from the U.S. Navy. In 1992 he decided to respond to the call to ministry, attended seminary and served in a non-denominational setting for five years until the start-up of

an inner-city church, New Covenant Fellowship,

in Montgomery in 1997. A primary focus of this 25-member congregation, which continues to exist, has been a food ministry to the hungry, getting perfectly good food being removed from the shelves of grocery stores into the hands of those who needed it. He said that that small congregation has moved 50 tons of food since the program began in 1998.

Vincent had also experienced hospice directly. When his father, a Roman Catholic, died two and a half years ago his hospice chaplain was a United Pentecostal minister whose pastoral care was superb, according to Vincent. In that situation Vincent realized how much pastoral care was needed by patient and family and how unimportant was the formal denominational connection of the pastor. That Pentecostal chaplain, he said, was able to reconnect his father, who had long been an inactive Roman Catholic, with his father’s spiritual heritage, he said.

Sitting in his office at Wiregrass Vincent comes across as a man of deep faith, who loves his work passionately, and believes firmly that the combination of his experiences – secular and sacred – has uniquely prepared him for this very special call in ministry.

Being a hospice chaplain had never been in his plans, but here he is, serving in that role, with a congregation of 180 as he describes it, and like the Apostle Paul being all things for all people for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Deacon Steve McCary, a deacon with the Cathedral of Christ the King Charismatic Episcopal, serves as volunteer chaplain for Cahaba Hospice, one of two Selma-based hospice programs and, like Marc Vincent, McCary, a Birmingham native, helps hospice patients and families with their spiritual needs. If a patient wants to talk about any issues he has with God, McCary is there. After a patient has passed on, McCary remains available to the family for any spiritual needs they may have for the year following.

McCary was ordained at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Selma in 2002, but has lived here since 2000. &uot;It was a calling,&uot; McCary said. &uot;God wanted me to be here.&uot;

That calling extends to ministering to people on a one-to-one basis. McCary is out of the office about 50 percent of the time ministering to those in need. The other 50 percent of his time is spent discussing patients with hospice staff and checking with nurses. Often nurses can recognize a specific need, and let McCary know where he needs to go next.

McCary’s experience with hospices began at the age of 17 when his brother entered the Air Force. McCary’s family rented his brother’s home to a woman dying of bone cancer. Day after day McCary found himself at the home and speaking with the woman.

McCary continued visiting the woman until the cancer eventually reached her brain and she died.

Death, though, isn’t something McCary thinks is a defeat. It’s a time of sadness, but also one of victory. &uot;It’s going from life to life,&uot; he said.

As a volunteer chaplain with Cahaba Hospice, McCary helps patients and families understand the spiritual process. &uot;It’s a time of excitement,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m building an air of anticipation, not resignation.&uot;

But the passing of a patient can still be a hard thing to take. McCary said one of the hardest moments he’s been through involved a 22-year-old patient dying of colon cancer. She was a student at university and just beginning to settle into her home. When she died the hot water heater was still in the box.

McCary emphasized that families of hospice patients shouldn’t look at hospice employees as &uot;pallbearers.&uot;

For further information, contact Cahaba Hospice, 410 Church St. (334-418-0566) or Wiregrass Hospice, 200 Central Park Place (334-875-2521).